TITLE: JURATA'S DAUGHTER
GENRE: YA fantasy
Nyada pushed aside a stack of empty apple crates at the rear of the garden shed and eased open the hidden panel. A trio of brown field mice scurried across her sandals into the shadows. She bit back a cry, waited for her heart to stop hammering, and peered into the cellar below. A single lantern hung from the ceiling of the stone chamber, its wick turned low. When her eyes adjusted to the gloom, she crept down rough-hewn stairs toward a row of oak barrels.
Pear-shaped leather costrels rested atop each vat of mead. Nyada held one under the nearest spigot. Her nose wrinkled at the musty odor of fermented honey and water dripping into the pouch. She plugged the top, slid the cord over the dark tunic she wore during nighttime prowls, and slunk back to the stairs.
At the far end of the chamber, another door led to what Nyada supposed was a storeroom for the Order’s jewels. Why else would it be secured with a bronze bolt and carved with symbols of the sea? Though it was folly to linger, tonight she couldn’t resist—for all she knew, she might never have another chance. She drifted toward the thick barrier, hands itching to trace the mermaid chiseled just above the latch.
Her fingers danced across flowing hair and scales. Once, twice, three times. The mermaid moaned. Nyada fled back toward the steps. Gods, what had she done? Halfway up the staircase, she paused, sniffing. Seawater?